But I like writing on paper …

“But I like writing on paper …”

This was said to me by a Year 10 student. We were discussing how laptops were being used in his classes. He said he liked copying notes and thought that copying notes allowed him to better remember information. He said he felt like he was falling behind because he was no longer required to copy notes in class. A teacher told me they have been asking students who have their own laptops to show them their books as an indication of what the student has done in class and what the student has achieved. It is now the third year of introducing 1:1 laptops in NSW schools. What do these two reveal about students’ and teachers’ perceptions of the place of 1:1 laptops in learning?

Let’s look at the first thing: “I like writing on paper”

With the introduction of 1:1 laptops, we’ve often focused on teachers. However, we haven’t really talked about how the kids are responding to the change. I was reading an article on problem based learning the other day and the article talked about student resistance at the start. The article emphasised how some students are accustomed to transmissive teaching and may find it difficult to adopt problem based learning because it challenges them to use higher order thinking skills and to manage their own learning. This is a big change when they have been used to memorising and regurgitating information for many years (and been very successful at it and rewarded for it). Introducing 1:1 laptops is similar because it changes the learning environment. When used to transform learning, 1:1 laptops remove students from a ‘everyone-look-and-listen-to-the-teacher ’learning environment to a learning environment where students are working at their own pace, at different tasks and they need to take a more active role to manage their own learning. I’ve seen some students really take off with this while others are very reluctant. There has been lots of emphasis on preparing students to use their laptops such as teaching them how to use the software within their laptops. However, 1:1 laptops isn’t about doing work on a laptop instead of on paper. It’s about transforming the learning environment. Perhaps we need to teach students how to work in small groups, how to manage timelines in long term projects and how to self-directed independent learners.

Let’s move on to the second thing: Checking students’ book work

This works on the assumption that the amount of work in a book determines how much work a student has done. This implies that if a student doesn’t have a book, they aren’t working in class. This also implies if a student doesn’t have much text, worksheets and title pages in their book, they aren’t working in class. As educators, why are we still obsessed with book work? In a digital age where notes can be sent electronically or easily looked up on Google, how does having copious amounts of text and cut-and-paste activities glued into an exercise book indicate that you are learning? Why do we still include “book mark” as an indication of a student’s learning? Why don’t we ask students to show their Edmodo pages and see how much they have contributed to discussions, how much they have helped with other students’  questions and how many assignments they have submitted. Why don’t we ask students to show us how regularly they write on their blogs? At the moment we want students to be self-directed and independent learners and critical thinkers in a 1:1 laptop learning environment, while at the same time we want to assess their learning by requesting them to show us how much work they have recorded on paper.

It is now the third year that 1:1 laptops have been introduced to NSW schools and I think there’s still a long way to go before the full potential of 1:1 laptops is utilised in classrooms. I think this requires a lot of change – from students, teachers and what we perceive as learning

3 thoughts on “But I like writing on paper …

  1. I agree with most of what you’ve said here, but I have to say that at times the laptops are more of a hindrance than anything. With the number of laptops at the TSO, left at home etc. it makes practical activities which utilise technology difficult. Unfortunately, the same kids who would ‘forget’ their books now ‘forget’/break in 5 minutes their laptops. I find it a little more frustrating as a teacher because I used to photocopy a class set of a resource. Now I put time and effort putting something online or a creating a Powerpoint, forum or whatever AND I have to have a paper back up for these fools as well! So things need to change on a few fronts.
    Also, there are still people – students and teachers – in the system who think copying notes = learning. I know when I try to hold discussions with my better classes, they don’t really consider this ‘work’, and in some cases don’t feel they need to participate at all because it’s not ‘worth anything’. It makes me angry! So it’s not just technology, it’s writing of any kind, and our methods of assessment may have something to answer for as well.

  2. I certainly don’t think that writing notes is a whole-learning strategy, but I do think that there are some benefits to recording key information yourself, be it on paper or electronically. My science may be wonky, but I feel like it makes you hold and process the information for longer, and more of it has a change to stay in memory.

    As for paper itself, we don’t have much access to computers at my school, so paper is what we use to write. For all that this is old fashioned, it is a reliable and efficient way to record information, and doesn’t exclude higher-order thinking. They type and depth of thinking if bound to the nature of the task, not the mechanism used to store information.

    Having said all of that, I agree that many people mistake transcription for learning.

    Just my two cents.

  3. Pingback: My Spore Journey – digging deeper into GBL | Alice Leung's blog

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